This was originally published on Sept. 28, 2021.

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Days before the start of his trial, charges have been dropped against a man accused of murdering a toddler during a gun battle in north Minneapolis in 2016.

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The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office says Chris Maurice Welch is no longer charged with second-degree murder in connection to the death of 2-year-old Le’Vonte Jones because five witnesses critical to the case are either dead, incarcerated, missing or unwilling to testify.

“Without these key witnesses, the State does not have any evidence to present at trial to identify Defendant as the person who committed the crime,” wrote County Attorney Mike Freeman in a court filing. “Therefore, the State has insufficient evidence to prove Defendant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the alleged offense. Accordingly, the State has no other option left but dismiss the charges.”

Chris Welch (credit: Ramsey Co. Jail)

Freeman says Jones’s father — the intended target of the shooting — cannot be found, and has “repeatedly refused to cooperate with the investigation” and “has remained uncooperative since the date of the incident and has provided numerous inconsistent versions of the events of that day.”

On July 8, 2016, Le’Vonte Jones was sitting in his dad’s minivan near Penn and Lowry avenues. Surveillance video shows a sedan pull up alongside them before shots are fired — 11 in total. Jones died from a gunshot wound to the chest. A 15-month-old child who was also in the car was shot in the leg, but survived.

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Welch was arrested in 2016, but enough evidence wasn’t available to file a charge until 2019.

“A number of witnesses have come forward finally. It was a difficult case to put together,” Freeman said back in 2019.

Welch, who is serving a 17-year federal sentence outside of Minnesota for firearm possession by a career criminal, was set to be brought back to Minneapolis for his trial, which was scheduled to begin next Monday.

“This office is very disappointed that we were forced to dismiss the murder charges in the Welch case,” Freeman said. “Full community support is necessary to bring the killers of little children to justice and we hope people will be forthcoming in the future in other cases.”

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo released this statement on manner Wednesday:

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The murder of 2 year old Le’Vonte King Jason Jones bears a stain across the heart of Minneapolis. We should all be collectively outraged, appalled and shamed that Le’Vonte and our other precious children have had their lives taken to senseless violence. I commend the diligent and professional work by MPD Homicide Detectives who have been relentless to bring those to account who are responsible. We will not give up on our children. We will continue to seek justice.